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There’s much discussion these days about passion and purpose in the workplace. A Google search of passion at work results in 569,000,000 hits. Purpose at work? 691,000,000.

Passion and purpose are a tag-team relationship. One without the other is more often than not self-limiting and self-sabotaging.

Passion without purpose is akin to “all dressed up and no place to go.” Purpose without passion is like living in a fantasy world, completely in one’s head, absent any action or activity.

Too, many often confuse passion and purpose.

Defining passion and purpose

So, let’s explore the difference between passion and purpose and then see how do the two connect. Purpose defines why one is on the planet. Some refer to purpose as a calling. Others, as one’s “life work.” Passion is energy – emotional, physical, mental, psychic and, often, spiritual – that drives one and supports one to engage in, and focus on, one’s efforts – effort that is sometimes purposeful, sometimes not. 

The connection

When connected to purpose, passion supports one to energetically and intentionally engage in one’s purpose, on one level, and be a continuous learner, strive towards self-actualization, and look for ways to continually improve what one does and how one does it, on another.  However, passion, in and of itself, can be as much self-limiting, self-destructive, self-sabotaging, and hurtful to others as it can be self-supporting. It depends on how one chooses to channel one’s energy, one’s passion. For example,

  • Some passionate folks dress up and go to sporting events to engage in harassment, uncivil, disrespectful and hurtful behavior in the name of “I’m really passionate about my team.”
  • Colleagues at work can unfairly judge others, bully others, engage in gossip about, be rude to, demeaning and disrespectful to others  if they perceive those others as being less skilled, less intelligent, as in “I’m really passionate about what I do and so, why do you have to be so stupid!” Often folks feel their passion allows them to be disrespectful, hurtful.
  • In addition, folks can be passionate about coming home at night and binging on alcohol, food or chemical or non-chemical drugs.

Passion is energy

The important question is, towards what end is one’s passion directed? Is one’s passion positive, supportive of one’s self, others and humanity? Is it negative, self-destructive or harmful to one’s self, others and humanity?

Being passionate doesn’t automatically assume one is humble, emotionally intelligent or mature, good at relationships, acting in integrity, honest, even skilled or talented, etc. Passion is just energy. Purpose, then, completes the passion equation and gives passion a “raison d’etre.”

Without purpose as an anchor, passion has no inner or outer guidance system. Without a purpose, one often will feel disoriented in life, out-of-sync and unhappy. In my work as a coach, I’ve always been curious about folks who (1) face a mid-life crisis at 30!, and and/or (2) spend countless dollars, enormous amounts of time and energy studying, for example, law, medicine, IT, finance, management, etc., and end up literally hating what they’re doing, and sooner rather than later.

In some of these cases, folks choose to enter a profession/career area because they were directed by career folks, career coaches, career consultants, etc., of one kind of another who suggested that their interest, talent, or other assessments pointed them in a particular direction they should follow.  You’re really talented in (fill in the blank). Your assessment indicates you’re best suited for (fill-in the blank). Ergo, your path. Your “purpose.” Hmmm. Not so fast.

What career folks, parents, relatives, good friends etc., almost never measure is heart. Heart is the focal point of purpose. Not the mind. Not logic. Not what’s sexy.  Not what The Futurist says one should do, and especially, not “Hey, you’re really good at (blank) so why don’t you pursue (blank)?” Some never get it. Purpose is not a career area, a job, a talent, an expertise.

Purpose, however, can be manifested by working in a career area, a job, using a talent or manifesting an expertise. The difference is the quality of the energy (passion) one brings to that endeavor, and whether one’s actions and work are “purposeful.” For example, take two lawyers, two IT professionals, two managers, two bloggers who both do the same work, but their energy, their engagement, their true love (not ego) of the work, their stick-to-it-ive-ness, their steadfastness, their joy of work, their sense of inner peace and well-being, depends on whether or not they are “on purpose” when doing their work (only the purposeful are truly engaged). They can be on opposite ends of the “purpose” spectrum. One has their heart in it; the other muddles through with an ugh at every turn.

Purpose and the heart

So, purpose is the anchor, the beacon, the direction, the career compass that guides one to making choices and decisions that keep one living a life “on purpose.” Without such a guide, then, are those many who hit a dead end at 30 (then 40, 50), and constantly wonder, “Is this all there is?” Or, “I have all this talent, and I don’t understand why I’m not happy.”

The heart is what drives purpose, not the mind, not the ego. When one has one’s heart in one’s work, one’s play, one’s life, then meaning and fulfillment abound; they are, and feel, purposeful in their work, in their life. When all is ego-driven, when one has “figured it out” in their mind, meaning is most often trumped by unhappiness, agitation, and constant negative judgments, making invidious comparisons with others while always feeling to some degree, lacking, deficient, and disconnected. And from what do they feel disconnected, perhaps unaware? Their heart, their purpose, their True, Authentic Self, their Essence. The ego mind, logic, assessments, “thinking” and “figuring it out” are not the path to purpose. The heart is.

Some questions for self-reflection:

  • How do you characterize your relationship to your work?
  • How did you arrive at doing the work you’re doing?
  • Do you feel purposeful in your work? Do you feel “coerced” to work or “called” to work
  • Do you feel passionate about your work? What motivates you to go to work?
  • Do you feel completely engaged when you’re at work?
  • Why are you on the planet? What is your purpose in life?
  • What is the legacy you’d like to leave behind? What will others say about you when you’re gone – about you as a professional, a spouse, a partner, a parent, a friend…?
  • What are three things you’re passionate about? How you do express this passion?
  • Are you following your life’s purpose? How do you know?
  • If you really, really dislike your work, what story do you tell yourself to justify your doing it?


(c) 2014, Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D. and True North Partnering. All rights in all media reserved. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this reading with you and I hope you find it insightful and useful.

Perhaps you’ll share this with others, post it on a bulletin board, and use it to generate rich and rewarding discussion. What is the one thing that is keeping you from feeling successful, happy, confident, in control or at peace as you live your life – at work, at home, at play or in relationship?

Maybe you know what that thing is maybe you don’t. You just have a feeling that something has to change, whether or not you embrace that change. And how would that change support you to show up as a “better you?”  

I’m available to guide you to create relationships that reflect honesty, integrity, authenticity, trust, and respect whether at work or outside of work.

I support you to focus on the interpersonal skills that enable you to relate to others with a high level of personal and professional satisfaction – unhampered by personal inconsistencies, beliefs, “stories,” and behaviors that create barriers to a harmonious, pleasant, conscious, compatible, healthy and productive relationship.  

I coach by phone, Skype and in person. For more information, 770-804-9125, or pvajda(at)

You can also follow me on Twitter: @petergvajda.